pop goes the world: the culture of negativity

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  28 July 2011, Thursday

The Culture of Negativity

This being a column that looks at the world from a cultural perspective (in the social anthropological sense), I am attracted to descriptive terms using the formula “culture + (trait) = label for social phenomenon.”

Last week I wrote about the culture of impunity. This time we look at negativism, and how endemic it is in our culture.

Doomsayers abound – the media are full of them, as are street corners. This is not to say that their points are not valid; more often than not, they are. And it is often strong negative emotions that elicit the strongest reactions, and make people discuss them with force and spirit.

Perhaps it is our superstitious side that does not wish to dwell on good news, because to be humble about such things is considered better than talking about them lest disaster and ill luck follow. The strong collective nature of Filipino society also regards talking about one’s achievements as bragging. People who do so are considered show-offs – mayabang - and through various forms of social sanction are taken down a peg –  being shamed or criticized in public is one such way.

About the only achievements that may be celebrated publicly are in sports (Manny Pacquio and the Azkals’ victories), academics (the annual crop of the universities’ summa cum laudes), and showbiz (Charice and other Filipino performers doing well abroad).

However, what is sad and counter-productive is when good news, especially in government, is disbelieved or taken for granted. Achievements are shrugged off and gains set aside as only to be expected. “Dapat lang,” is often the response, with a disdainful sniff.

President Aquino mentioned this in his State-of-the-Nation address the other day, when he said, in Filipino, “Let us end the culture of negativity; let us lift up our fellow Filipinos at every opportunity. Why do others delight in looking for whatever is ugly in our country? And is it so difficult – almost a sin – to say something good?”

After his speech, brickbats were hurled at him left and right, with the exception of some columnists. He left many issues unaddressed, they said. Yet has he done nothing right?

This is not to say everything has gone as it should. There is still much work to be done. The reality of poverty, the inequality of wealth distribution, the lack of local jobs that has led to the Filipino diaspora, is something that we have to confront.

Says an American friend, who has made many Pinoy friends online and because of its people has come to love the Philippines: “I know how sad the state of the Philippines is. It saddens me so much. I see the poverty and how cheap human life is. I see a culture of privilege and caste. I see a bankrupt philosophy buried in a religious dark age. It’s as sad as anything you might find anywhere.

“What is even sadder is how the people could have had such a different path.”

We could have been on a different path a long time ago, if we had chosen to take one before, if we had not deviated from the progressive path we were on in the ‘60s;

If Marcos and martial law did not take us down a dark and bloody road that set our nation back decades, and from which we are still trying to recover. While he and his First Lady built much massive (and blocky and boring) infrastructure, that is just window-dressing compared to the ills of the culture of impunity they embedded and that we are still suffering from, and the lives lost during the First Quarter Storm and well into that regime that we are still mourning;

If Gloria Arroyo and her ilk did not set out upon a path of greed and drain our nation’s coffers almost dry.

Now, after decades of abuse at the hands of such leaders and their cronies, how can we expect President Noy, now taking our country upon the daang matuwid, to fix all these societal problems in a matter of 365 days?

Some analysts say the gains he cited in the SONA as current were taken out of context. Are there then no achievements that may be attributed to this administration? To say that is to negate all the hard work put in the past year by the current crop of government leaders and workers, which is not fair to them.

In short, di na tayo na kuntento. Shouldn’t we be grateful for something at least, rather than the nothing that we might have had if things hadn’t gone as well as they have, considering?

In the end, it’s a question of what we truly want and how badly we want it, and if we are willing to work together – rather than against each other – to achieve it.

But then again, do we know what we really want? And what is it that we should want?

Here’s a story about that, from Hong Kong writer Nury Vittachi’s mystery novel The Feng Shui Detective (2000):

 Blade of Grass, the things you want are the things you do not want. Hear the ancient story of the man who knew what he wanted.

He was walking by the riverside when he saw an Immortal. The man was very curious. He looked at the person from Heaven.

“I suppose you want something from me?” said the Immortal.

“Yes,” said the man.

The Immortal touched a stone with his finger. It changed to gold. He said: “You can take.”

The man did not go. He stayed.

“Do you want something more?” said the Immortal.

“Yes,” said the man.

The Immortal touched three rocks nearby. They turned to gold. He said: “You can take.”

But the man still did not go.

The Immortal said: “What do you want? What is more valuable than gold?”

The man said: “I want something very ordinary.”

The Immortal said: “What do you want?”

The man said: “Your finger.”  ***

Azkals image here. President Noy here. Marcoses here. Book cover here.

taste more:

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